What is the writing style of Their Eyes Were Watching God?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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As an anthropologist, Zora Neale Hurston was very interested in folklore; consequently, she has been accused of writing "folklore fiction." But, such is not the case. While Their Eyes Were Watching God does have elements of folklore as Janie tells her story to her friend who will retell it, there is more to this lyric narrative which soundly resonates with the soul of woman.

When Janie Crawford returns to Eatonville dragging her past with her, it is in metaphoric language that the reader meets her: "The dream is the truth," Hurston introduces Janie's story. Other uses of metaphor convey meaning, as well; for instance, Janie removes her apron while married to Joe Starks, a gesture symbolic of her assertion of independence. Forms of the word remember are repeated in the first couple of pages and the flashback begins as the envious others form a chorus of "treacherous ears" as Hurston names them

"....You know if you pass some people and don't speak tuh suit 'em day got tuh go way back in yo' life and see whut you ever done.  They know mo' 'bout  yuh than you do yo'self. An envious heart makes a treacherous ear. They done 'heard' 'bout you just what they hope done happened." 

Interestingly, in this passage, Hurston inserts the narrator's voice into the spoken words of Janie as is apparent by the difference in diction. In other ways, too, Hurston manipulates dialogue. 

In her Foreword to the novel, Mary Helen Washington observes that Janie's last speech to Pheoby at the end of the novel truly

....casts doubt upon the relevance of oral speech and supports Alice Walker's claim that women's silence can be intentional and useful.

So, Hurston employs silence on Janie's part as an effective tool of style to denote her assertion of her feminine independence. In a like manner, Hurston characterizes the language of the men as "divorced form any kind of interiority," Washington notes, and, thus, the men are stagnant in growth as people.

Replete with dialect, there is an authenticity to the narrative of Their Eyes Were Watching God. It is a story retold as folklore that displays the feminine soul in its struggle to break from subordination in both its words and its silence, in its poetic language and its musicality. Janie Crawford attains independence and voice as storyteller.

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